Environ was born in the spring of 1995 in the college town of Oberlin, Ohio. The Detroit-inspired "Premise EP" (produced by the label's founder, Morgan Geist), a veritable Roland orchestra of crisp beats, emotive chords and acid basslines, sold out its small initial run through Dan Curtin's Deep Distribution. Dreamy Dutch duo The Connection Machine, then fresh from releasing their groundbreaking debut on Carl Craig's innovative Planet E label, joined the maiden voyage with a slow-motion remix clearly intended for the head rather than the feet.
Released one year later in 1996, Geist's "REMnants EP" reinforced the the label's efforts to create its own sound that would speak to both the mind and the body. Alongside the Chicago and Detroit influences, bits of hip-hop, jazz and classic soul bubbled up through the six tracks. With its varied styles, the record received both DJ and critical support from across the musical spectrum. Unfortunately, Environ would soon discover that trying to forge a unique path was not necessarily compatible with selling records.
When the collaborative "Titonton & Morgan EP" (produced by Titonton Duvante and Morgan Geist) was sent to American dance distributors in early 1997, its complex programming and schizoid moods were met with ambivalence. The record was branded as too inaccesible, and with presales dismal, the project was scrapped. The remaining U.S. test pressings were sold and generated enough of a buzz in Europe that the EP was licensed by Phono (the UK label would later issue a compilation of the first three Environ releases). And while "Titonton & Morgan" went on to sell quite well, the necessity of a license was a blow to the label's independence.
After the disappointing experience with the third record, Environ was put on hiatus until late 1998, when a P&D deal was struck with Ideal UK. Four EPs were released that year: two volumes of disco-techno hybrid 12"s by Nebula Jersey, plus an innovative house EP called "What Is Today's R&B?" (produced by Morgan Geist) that toyed with same temporal shifts espoused by hip-hop and R&B. Joining these projects was "The Mechanical Birds," an eccentric and vibrant EP from a NYC disco producer by the name of Daniel Wang.
Signing Wang (already a cult hero via his outstanding Balihu disco label) marked an important shift for Environ. Besides the obvious stylisistic swerve, Wang's EP was the first solo release by an artist other than the label's founder. Inspired by Wang's vibrant productions and increasingly dissatisfied with the P&D arrangment, Environ was brought back home to the States in 1999 with a new project: Metro Area, the brainchild of Geist and Darshan Jesrani. With the record's hot pink and lime green artwork and fresh sound, the domestic renaissance of the label felt as exciting and brave as the first release.